Cape Town - All three of the Stormers' new front-row recruits for 2015 will be in action for Western Province in Sunday's one-off meeting with top English club, Saracens.
Hooker Bongi Mbonambi and props Vincent Koch and Wilco Louw linked up with the 2014 Currie Cup champions at their HPC training base in Bellville on Monday and all three will be jetting out to London for the clash at Allianz Park.
Between them, the trio boast a collective weight of 353kg and while they don’t quite have the experience to match the likes of Tiaan Liebenberg, Brok Harris and Pat Cilliers - who they will replace in the Stormers squad next year - they have wonderful opportunities to carve out their own reputations in the Cape.
Of the trio, 23-year-old Mbonambi boasts the most top-level rugby experience, having featured at Super Rugby and Currie Cup level for the Bulls since 2012 - playing a combined total of over 30 games.
The powerful hooker also featured at Varsity Cup level for the title-winning UP-Tuks team, where Empangeni-born Vincent Koch - who was schooled in Wellington and played Craven Week for Boland - first made a name for himself before he joined the Pumas on a full-time basis in 2013.
Koch, 24, helped the Pumas claim the Currie Cup First Division title in convincing fashion last season, before also spearheading their impressive charge in the 2014 Premier Division which saw them just fall short of the semi-finals after a golden mid-season run.
The youngest member of the Stormers’ new front-row trio is SA Under-20 powerhouse Wilco Louw - a constant selection in the team that went down narrowly to England in the final of the 2014 IRB Junior World Championships in New Zealand in June.
At 133kg there is no doubting his size, but when you first shake his hand you have no doubt about his strength either.
Louw turns 21 in July 2015, which makes him eligible for the Western Province Under-21 team next year too.
However, the Ceres-born prop - who finished his schooling at HTS Drostdy - will no doubt come into contention for Super Rugby honours like many before him in the Cape; Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Oli Kebble all very young props who have flourished here in recent years.
“Tighthead prop is a crucial position in rugby and we’ve acted quickly to identify and sign quality players to step in and provide valuable depth in (and to compete for) the No 3 jersey,” WP Director of Rugby Gert Smal told the WP Rugby website earlier this week.
“Frans Malherbe is a Springbok incumbent, were it not for his injury he would be on tour with the national squad at present, so we are satisfied that we have three quality players at our disposal (in Frans, Vincent and Wilco) ahead of next year’s Super Rugby tournament.”
Sunday’s clash against Saracens in North London will give Cape rugby fans an opportunity to catch a glimpse of their new front row stars, a sure taste of what is to come from our new signings in 2015.The Sanlam Private Investments Challenge - between Saracens and WP - will be televised live on SuperSport One (kick-off 15:00 -SA time).
Mbongeni ‘Bongi’ Mbonambi
Date of Birth: January 7, 1991
Other rugby honours: SA Schools (2009), SA Under-20 (2011)
Date of Birth: March 13, 1990
Other rugby honours: SA President’s XV (2013)
Date of Birth: July 20, 1994
Other rugby honours: SA Schools (2012), SA Under-20 (2014)